9.1.2 Sidebar: Privacy and Facebook—Why I Quit and Rejoined

I use Facebook for several reasons. One is my professional interest in keeping track of what’s happening in the planet’s largest social network, including what application developers and users are doing there. More personal is that some of my friends—actual friends—use the site, and Facebook helps me stay in touch with them.

But when Facebook made a dramatic change to its privacy structure at the end of 2009, I concluded I could no longer trust the service, even with the limited amount of things I’ve said and done there since I got an account several years ago. I continue to admire the company’s accomplishments in many other ways, so why did I no longer feel safe and sound in the hands of Facebook?

Even though some of the changes made in the privacy settings were actually helpful—notably, the ability to set privacy options for individual posts—the overall bias was troubling. As an analysis by the Electronic Frontier Foundation concluded, the new settings “push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.”

Facebook’s extremely smart leaders know perfectly well that the majority of users are likely to accept these suggestions. Most people say yes to whatever the default settings are in any application, even though we should always be wary of the defaults, precisely for reasons like this.

I wasn’t very happy with my Facebook situation in any case. Early on, I said yes to just about everyone who asked me to “friend” them, including people barely knew and some I didn’t know at all.

The privacy changes—and my continuing uncertainty about what I was sharing, given the still-large number of pages you have to look at to modify your settings—made me realize I’d rather take fewer chances. So I made a fairly drastic change.

I deleted my account. Then I started a new one.

Actually, I scheduled the old one for deletion, which is all Facebook allowed. The company figures, perhaps correctly, that some people will have made this decision rashly and wants to give them a chance to reconsider. And it’s clearly in Facebook’s business interest to minimize the number of cancellations.

It wasn’t easy to figure out how to delete the account, which no doubt is part of the company’s strategy, too. If you go to the Settings page, the only option offered is to “deactivate,” not delete.

But a little searching on the site turns up a Facebook Group called “How to permanently delete your Facebook account” (with more than 70,000 members at the time of this writing)—which in turn reveals an actual delete-account form located at still another Web address that Facebook doesn’t reveal in any prominent way, if at all.

After creating my new account, I checked the default privacy settings. They’re pretty un-private, in my view, sharing way too much with people you don’t know. I systematically went through the various screens—Facebook makes this chore both annoying and obscure—to ratchet down the settings to something I can live with.

We all know Facebook profits from exposing to search engines and advertisers the largest possible number of pages by the largest number of people willing to create stuff and make it public. Marketers drool at the prospects Facebook offers, and Facebook’s entirely rational goal is to make profits in almost any way it can. What’s in the corporate interest, however, doesn’t necessarily match what’s in my interest, or yours.

So I’m still at facebook.com/dangillmor—though my real Web home base is dangillmor.com, as we’ll discuss in the next chapter—but now I have just a small selection of Facebook friends. I’ll be adding more, but not in any hasty way.

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